Inclusion and the right to participate in public life” is the theme of this year’s International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. Its inspiration comes from articles in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Indonesia has ratified among 167 state parties.
These articles include the right to freedom of assembly and association, the right to take part in public life, elections and decision-making institutions and the right to freedom of expression and opinion. “Voice your opinion and … take part in public discourse and decision-making processes without shame, threat or fear,” reads the UN website on this year’s commemoration.
A quick glance at Indonesia today shows an increasing boldness on the part of young people, as they write blogs, join demonstrations and aspire to run for elected posts. Singer Agnes Monica is among these youths; she addressed the Youth Global Forum in Bali, which ended on Thursday. Reiterating her mantra to “Dream, believe and make it happen”, she said she found that for many young people, the hardest part was not making something happen but having enough self-belief, as many youngsters were put down by others — as she herself had experienced — or by circumstances such as poverty.
Hopefully, Indonesia will become an increasingly conducive place for the young. To voice one’s opinion “without shame, threat or fear” is still a luxury to some; ironic, really, as we live in the so-called democratic era after the fall of the New Order regime.
In recognition of this luxury, this year’s prestigious Yap Thiam Hien Human Rights Award was presented to Tempo magazine. Lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis, who represented the committee, cited recent editions that highlighted the plight of the Ahmadiyah minority and the killing of suspected communists in the 1960s.
Certainly, freedom of belief and the right to express oneself freely still fall far short of the expectations of those who welcomed the end of the authoritarian regime.
The fact that members of our Shia minority considered seeking help from the UN is testament to the lack of Indonesia’s freedoms.
However, hopefully the world’s Muslim women will see some promises realized following the fourth talks on women of the Organization of Islamic Conference, which ended in Jakarta on Thursday. The pledge for the advancement of women, drawn up as the Jakarta Charter, states that women’s economic access should be increased by strengthening their “access to productive sources such as land, capital, loans and credit, science and technology”, as cited by Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Linda Amalia Sari Gumelar.
Advocates for women are pushing for the passing of a gender equality law, saying that mere access without ensuring control of such resources will not empower women or give them a level playing field in their efforts to progress. The law’s early drafts have been rejected by the religious brigade, who says that differences between the sexes are part of God’s law.
Differences of opinion are normal, but what is becoming increasingly worrying is the intimidation of those who don’t sound sufficiently religious.
Indonesians cannot keep relying on a handful of activists and a few media outlets to trumpet civil liberties. It requires a larger collective energy to stop the intimidation perpetrated by those who want to deny every citizen’s voice.